TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THE TISSUE INDUSTRY.
I was born in France and went to a vocational school where I learned the basics of papermaking. The school wasn’t far from my hometown, so that made it easier to get into the paper industry. After graduating, I signed a two-year contract with the military and went into the Air Force, based in Africa. When my contract ended, I got a job as a wrapper in a mill in my hometown. I started on the bottom rung of the ladder, with the clear goal of climbing up.
In 2006, I read a success story about two businessmen from France—Patrice Minguez and Marc Allegre of Cellynne Corporation—who were starting up their first tissue machine in Florida. (Patrice is now president of Resolute Forest Products’ Tissue Group.) I contacted them and three months later moved to Florida with my family. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. By 2007, the start-up of the paper machine was in the books, and in 2009 Patrice and Marc decided to build a second paper machine. I was put in charge of the project, and we had the world’s fastest start-up—only 21 days. In 2013, I took over the tissue department as superintendent, and in 2016 joined Resolute in the same position. I spent most of the year supporting the start-up of the new tissue machine at the company’s state-of-the-art facility in Calhoun, Tennessee. Today I’m the continuous improvement manager for three plants—Miami, Orlando, and Calhoun.
My job is very demanding and time-consuming, but over the years I’ve developed a healthy work-life balance. Joining a triathlon team helped me find that balance. Qualifying for triathlons takes a lot of training, but if you commit to something—in both your professional and personal life—you can succeed. I’ve taken part in more than 30 triathlons, primarily the Ironman competition, which is the most challenging.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE GREATEST CHALLENGES YOU’VE FACED IN YOUR POSITION, ESPECIALLY THIS PAST YEAR DURING THE PANDEMIC? WHAT RESOURCES DID YOU USE TO OVERCOME THOSE CHALLENGES?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone as well as for most industries. Thankfully, forest products have been designated as essential by governments, and Resolute has been able to continue operating in all of its business segments—pulp, tissue, wood products and paper.
Employee health and safety is the top priority at all our sites. Since the start of the pandemic, the company has closely monitored developments and taken measures to limit the spread of the virus, including the mandatory use of facemasks, workplace sanitizing, physical distancing, onsite body temperature screening, etc. HR has worked hard to conduct contact tracing and to maintain a safe workplace.
Miami got hit pretty hard by COVID-19 and we had to hire temporary workers, which can be challenging—especially when it comes to safety protocols. They aren’t trained the same way and they aren’t familiar with our processes.
Finding alternative ways to hold meetings was also a challenge. We already had a video communications tool, but never used it because it felt strange to be on camera. It was easier to get people together around a table. We quickly adapted and we’re using videoconferencing regularly to conduct business and do our work. The pandemic has shown that many of us can work from home. Not all of us, of course, because some workers need to be onsite, but we’ve been able to cope with this unprecedented crisis.
BEFORE COVID, WHAT WERE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU HAD?
Employee retention was—and is—difficult, and I think it will become even more challenging in the future.
I’M SURE YOU’VE SEEN DIFFERENT TRENDS IN OUR INDUSTRY IN RECENT YEARS. WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE MOST CRITICAL ISSUES FACING THE TISSUE INDUSTRY NOW AND IN THE FUTURE? WHAT ISSUES SPECIFICALLY AFFECT MILLS?
Manpower is a key issue. I’m concerned about how we’re going to replace the baby boomers. Many of our workers have more than 35 years of experience and they’re going to retire soon, but very few young people seem to want to work in a tissue mill. It’s a great place to work and grow personally and professionally.
WHAT DO YOU THINK MILLS NEED TO DO NOW TO STAY COMPETITIVE?
Attracting and retaining talent is crucial. To convince potential candidates that our industry is a good place to work, we need to communicate our solid sustainability story, especially the environmental aspect. Resolute produces quality products that meet the criteria of today’s environmentally conscious stakeholders. It begins with responsible fiber sourcing. This includes responsible management of the forests in our care, careful tracking of wood fiber sources and the use of recycled fiber.
Away-from-home markets are a big chunk of our tissue business. When the hotel and cruise line industries shut down, we had a large volume of bath tissue in inventory, but not for the right market. We learned how to quickly switch production from away-from-home products to premium products. Making this adjustment required a lot of time and analysis, but we learned a great deal during the process. Even logistics came into play. We had a warehouse full of tissue, but couldn’t ship it. So, I think that in the future, being able to distribute products quickly will be a game changer, and those companies that can do so will come out ahead.
HAVING ATTENDED TISSUECON IN THE PAST, HOW HAVE TAPPI CONFERENCES HELPED YOU AND/OR YOUR MILL ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS?
TAPPI conferences enable us to meet new people, learn about different processes, share our daily routines and concerns, and ask all sorts of questions. They also help us define training guidelines. We have learned to spend more time with our employees in order to share know-how and expertise to improve retention.
WHY DO YOU FEEL SOMEONE SHOULD ATTEND TAPPICON?
Our industry is very small, so TAPPICon is a great way to network and share best practices. We’ve been making paper forever, but there are many different ways of doing it. The training programs are very helpful.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO TELL YOUR PEERS?
Our industry has changed. We have come a long way from working in a hot, wet environment at a mill. We’re shifting to digital technology, and it’s a whole new ball game. Over the past 20 years, I’ve seen a lot of changes, especially with the new technology and the new machines. Yes, we need engineers, but there are many other exciting career opportunities in our sector. TAPPI can help showcase how tissue production has changed, and with the new technology, we can hopefully inspire people to join the industry.